Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Nylon Hurtin'

In the movie Steel Magnolias, Dolly Parton's character, Truvy, claims she hasn't left the house without pantyhose on since she was 14 years old. To this her friend Clairee confirms, "You were raised right!"

Does this make you cringe, or raise your white-gloved fist in prim solidarity?

Generation X women came of age on the cusp of the change in dress code attitudes, balancing on the cotton crotch of the Great Pantyhose Divide. We grew up when hose were still the norm, but we entered the professional world realizing we weren't so keen on spending our paychecks on clothing that had a life span of about 2 wearings. When casual Fridays became popular the first thing we tossed were the pantyhose. And yet, I still struggle with "appropriate" times to wear them, much as I struggle just to put on the blessed things.

On Friday I had a job interview, and while dressing I once again pondered my bare legs with apprehension. My stylish-yet-conservative dress fell just above the knee--the norm for me at just shy of 6 feet tall. I worried it was too informal this way. Surely the second skin of some L'eggs would solve this problem and make my ensemble more...respectable.

This is where it gets weird.

Why do pantyhose equal "respectable"?

Why did I think that going bare-legged would somehow negate the validity of my master's degree and corporate experience? Why did I place so much weight on the power of an ounce of woven nylon? Years and years of condemnation from older generations, that's why. Gen X girls were taught that to be perceived as mature, professional, and/or proper we must wear pantyhose. Without question.

I worked my way through college in about 20 different retail jobs. Most of them required me to wear pantyhose. At least one even prohibited us girls from wearing pants. That was 1992.

But we have a powerful woman on OUR side now. Our own First Lady, Michelle Obama (by broadest definition a member of Generation X herself), has been quite vocal in her disdain for pantyhose. As a guest on The View she said, "I stopped wearing pantyhose a long time ago. They're's inconvenient."

She garnered some vitriolic backlash from this comment, being called everything from "unfeminine" to "vulgar" because of it. Crazy, isn't it?

So I'm taking a stand, a bare-legged stand. Those pantyhose I wore to my interview, the ones that caused my shoes to fit too loosely and hence fly off my left foot in the lobby of said interview, they are history! Those fancy silk-like pantyhose that cost $8.95 a pair and still rip when I barely bump them with a hangnail...history! I'm done with you, you antiquated casings of synthetic torture. I refuse to allow my character to be judged (real or imagined) by the presence or absence of some Underalls. The debate continues, but I'm standing with the First Lady on this one.


  1. HeyRay:

    Too funny! I have had this conversation with my mom and a woman from school in the last 6 months or so. I am viewed as unproffesional b/c I refuse to do the pantyhose thing anymore..! It made me wonder when pantyhose stopped being absolutely mandatory, and I think I pinpoint it to Heather Locklear on Melrose Place. I remember seeing her in those hot little suits with her naked, toned legs and being shocked -- SHOCKED, I tell you -- that she wasn't wearing pantyhose. I think I wore them for my first job in NYC, but after that, no more. I'm with you and Michelle -- that shit aint for me.


  2. YES! Amanda Woodward did not wear hose! (Did Ally McBeal?) My husband made a good point, saying that if an interviewer were so concerned with whether or not I was wearing hose, I should question why HE was paying so much attention to, and commenting on, my legs!

    I'm sure there was backlash when women stopped wearing gloves everywhere, and we've gotte past that. Ditto for men not wearing hats.

  3. And some day, when pants go back to being worn at the actual waist, an entire generation will complain that they are weird. I know that hose aren't supposed to be fashionable now, but I think that knee socks would look even weirder with skirts and dresses. How do people wear shoes without something on their feet and not get blisters?

    1. As a kid who grew up a knee sock junkie, the thought of wearing those again made me laugh. Imagine showing up to the office in argyle knee socks and penny loafers! (But then again, with so many offices allowing the vague 'business casual' I'm sure there are women already doing that.)

      Personally, I prefer the way my nice shoes fit with no embarrassing slips or flops as mentioned above. But my mom (A pre-Boomer) never ever wears a shoe without something covering her foot...a "footie" even with flats. She always tried to get me to wear them and I just couldn't stand it; the footie would bunch up and cause a blister for me. I also think half of the blister issue stems from women insisting on squeezing their feet into a shoe that is too small just so they don't have to admit to buying a bigger size.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!